Fascinating: Marriott Started With A Root Beer Stand

Filed Under: Hotels, Marriott

I can’t believe I didn’t know this story until now…

The history of Marriott

I never really knew much about the story of how Marriott was founded, other than knowing of Bill Marriott (formally “John William,” which is where the JW Marriott brand comes from), the Mormon connection, and that the first hotel opened in the 1950s.

At least that was all I knew until today. YouTube channel Hook uploaded a ~12 minute video sharing the history of how Marriott started, and frankly I found it to be really interesting.

Okay, to be honest I found the narration interesting, while the generic images used throughout the video took away from it a bit, though I can appreciate the challenges. If you have the time, I’d recommend giving the video a watch:

From root beer stand to world’s largest hotel group

I had no clue that Marriott really started as an A&W Root Beer Stand, and that the company did airline catering before it ever opened a hotel. To briefly summarize how Bill Marriott got into the hotel business:

  • Bill Marriott was born in 1900 in Marriott, Utah, and his parents were sheep herders
  • Bill Marriott was always entrepreneurial, started working for his dad at the age of eight, and started his own business at the age of 13; there were lots of ups and downs, but we’ll fast forward to how Marriott started
  • In 1927, Bill Marriott and his wife opened the first A&W Root Beer franchise in Washington DC; they had noticed the popularity of root beer stands elsewhere, and thought it would do well in DC
  • While it worked great at first during hot summer months, they realized that in the winter it wasn’t as popular; they decided to add warm items to the menu in winter months, and branded the business as “Hot Shoppes”
  • In 1928, Bill Marriott opened two more Hot Shoppes, and kept growing from there
  • In 1936, Hot Shoppes approached airlines about the prospect of catering boxed lunches on planes, which had previously never been done before; airlines were interested, and soon enough the company was catering inflight meals at Hoover Airport in Washington DC
  • In 1953, Hot Shoppes went public, and stock sold out within two hours of trading
  • In 1957, Bill Marriott shifted into the hotel business, and opened the first motor hotel (motel) in Arlington, Virginia
  • In 1959, the second Marriott property opened, which was the Key Bridge Marriott
  • From there Marriott continued to grow to what it is today — the world’s biggest hotel group

Hot Shoppes, how Marriott started

Bottom line

I had no clue that Marriott really started as a root beer stand, then turned into a restaurant serving hot food, and then turned into an airline catering company. Hotels only came into the picture decades later.

What a fascinating and inspiring story. While Marriott is now the world’s largest hotel group, I can’t help but feel like the innovation that got Marriott to where it is today is sorely lacking at this point.

Am I the only one who didn’t know about Marriott’s history?

  1. They force Marriott employees to watch videos about him when you’re newly hired. I met Bill Marriott. I got to shake his hand and welcome him to the Marriott. Cool story bro.

  2. Been working for Marriott for almost 20 years now. Here’s another “soda” related story:

    Ever notice that Marriott only sells Pepsi products (with extremely few exceptions)? Back when Marriott was getting going with the hotel thing, they hit a rough patch and asked Coca-Cola to extend them some credit, to which they said “no.”

    That was decades ago, and to this day, Marriott still won’t deal with Coca-Cola.

  3. yep, on Connecticut Avenue in uptown DC. I grew up in DC and we frequented the Hot Shoppes at the intersection of Wisconsin Ave and East-West Highway. You could stay in your car and order through some sort of device. They’d bring your food out to the car and put it on a tray that hung out the window. This was in the days before McDonalds.

  4. The history is fascinating. I grew up in Montgomery County, not far from the current Marriott HQ. Marriott HQ sponsored a Junior Achievement program for high schoolers. We met at the HQ building. There were test kitchens in the basement of HQ, including a mock-up Roy Roger’s and a mock-up Bob’s Big Boys. There was entire floor of HQ devoted to architects and engineers. I’ve sat in Bill Marriott, Sr.’s office, in front of the fireplace (never met him), but I did meet Bill, Jr. I was told there were also mocked-up hotel rooms in HQ, but I do not recall seeing those. Perhaps they didn’t want high schoolers to discover those!

  5. when I was a kid we used to go to the Hot Shoppes/Key Bridge Marriott to always buy their creamy french salad dressing. You could not get it anywhere elese.

  6. As an avid Diet Coke fiend and Perennial Titanium member, I wish Coke and Marriott would just kiss and make up. Pepsi products are really not good.

  7. I have a “Hot Shoppe” cookbook… The Marriott burger is my favorite recipe. I’ve had Marriott burgers from Kuwait to Aruba and they are all excellent and everyone tastes exactly the same.

  8. Agree about the photos with the video detracting from an interesting story. They bought land on eight acres near Washington (DC) which evidently has a huge snow covered mountain in the area? LOL.

  9. There is so much more history… Early hotels all had restaurants named Ally”s Pantry, named after Mrs. Marriott, with very all-American menus. In winter, we used to go ice skating on an outdoor rink at Twin Bridges, the original motor hotel. They would flood part of the parking lot and charge a dollar to skate – including parking.

  10. Yep – that is a picture of the Twin Bridge Marriott – named for the two 14th St bridges (one each direction). It was torn down long ago and is a soccer field now. The second Marriott is Key Bridge Marriott – recently closed and going to be the site of a new condo.

    The Hot Shoppes had curb service in the back of the restaurant. Hot Shoppes was a competitor to Howard Johnson’s.

    What was also a Marriott business was Might Mo – this was a Curb Service only restaurant by Hot Shoppes – just no inside dining. These were popular meeting places for young people. Girls would sit in their cars and boys would circle around the parking lot in their 408ci V8 engine cars and stop to meet girls.

  11. If only they would stop pretending that they care about their workers and stop making them work like slaves for miserable pay they treat housekeeping like dirt no respect they demand rooms and don’t give enough time for them to be finished thats marriott for you

  12. @Harry Boy

    Not sure about that. Now some Marriott properties are franchisees. When I worked at Marriott I was well paid , all the benefits , union protected. Even free tickets to disney land and universal studios. One of the best jobs I ever had .

  13. Not sure when they went out of business, but I recall going to Hot Shoppes in the Washington area when I was a kid in the late 1960s and 1970’s. Their hot chocolate was really good, IIRC. And, the restaurant at the Key Bridge Marriott was good enough back then that locals would eat there. Have stayed in that hotel too, as a kid and (much more recently) as an adult. Sad to hear it’s gone.

    Met Bill Marriott and his wife once in Salt Lake City. Nice folks. Willard was his dad – FWIW.

  14. Quick interesting story: In the mid 1960’s a Marriott hotel opened off newly finished I-80 in Saddle Brook, NJ. No one in the area had any idea what a Marriott was…it was a brand new brand to NJ (and no internet to look it up either). It took awhile before people got used to this new brand.

    BTW…the hotel is still there and while it’s been upgraded many times…it still looks relatively as it did when it opened.

  15. You forgot the part when they opened 2 theme parks in 1976.
    I started my career at the park in Gurnee IL. The training was fantastic always focusing on employees and the customer. This carried thru when I went on to work for many years at Marriott-Inflite services. Started as a midnight dishroom supervisor and eventually working for the president of the division Bill Bailey. Best corporation I ever worked for.

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